Adopter stories: “Digital will not replace analog, it will extend it”

TMRW is an institution dedicated to re-interpreting and re-framing traditional art media.

How does traditional art grow into digital formats? Sometimes organically, and sometimes with the help of initiatives like TMRW. The Mixed Reality Workshop presents the full range of contemporary digital art, including VR and AR, 360 videos, and immersive art with a special focus on works by contemporary South African artists. The program of this art institution is dedicated to re-interpreting and re-framing traditional art media, expanding it within the area of the digital and exhibiting newly commissioned works in dialogue with the other existing practices. Here artists are encouraged to develop and unleash their imaginative visions through the exploration of the new media and its possibilities, which results in creation of a new body of work.

Apart from the already mentioned mission, TMRW is an important hub on the cultural map of Johannesburg. It functions as an inclusionary space, which helps to shape the new identities of South Africans and maintains a dialogue between diverse social groups with the help of exhibitions, workshops, talks and performances.

.ART has talked to Brooklyn J. Pakathi, digital interaction artist, writer and curator, currently working at TMRW and exploring inclusive discourses.

How would you describe the concept of The Mixed Reality Workshop (TMRW)?
TMRW focuses on interpretations of artistic practice using new and emerging technologies, including the likes of Virtual & Augmented Realities, 360 Video, interactive and immersive art. We work with contemporary African artists from the Southern region providing them with access to the tools and knowledge to be able to experiment with the available technologies of creation and exhibition. They are encouraged to extend their creative practice and create new works using these technologies and then exhibit the new works alongside works from their traditional practice.

And although we work with a wide variety of technologies, our shows range anything from immersive storytelling to performative research. Our focus, unlike many other tech-driven spaces, is not driven solely by digital art but rather by inviting the traditional contemporaries to engage with these technologies

Digital art is able to offer a different view of the artist’s practice and narrative.

TMRW focuses on interpretations of artistic practice within South Africa. Do you function as an inclusionary space, helping to shape the new identities of South African youth?
That’s crucial to our existence. We don’t only work alongside commissioned and scheduled artists, but we also have an open submissions platform. We’ve recently worked with the Magolide Collective, a group of young artists who put together a phenomenal exhibition and this came about through the artists proposing the show. We also curate thematic experiences that are shaped by a wide variety of topics within the South African landscape. Our program is rich with workshops, talks, performances and collaboration.

What is the process of selecting the new commissions?
We are available for all artists to propose new works to us, with our judgment being based on the creative merits and feasibility of the proposal. We also invite artists to participate in solo or group shows based on the curatorial direction at the time.

What is the response of the local community towards TMRW?
Hugely positive. We attract audiences of all ages and have a deep level of engagement with and from the audience. We also host many student groups.

As the only full-time exhibition space for works with integrated technology, we collaborate with commercial art galleries to provide the opportunity for their artists to exhibit works of this nature. So, we’ve established a beautiful relationship between audiences, galleries and everyone in between.

Do you have a set exhibition plan?
Not yet. As a not-for-profit, we are not yet in a fully sustainable funding position so for now we are working from one exhibition to the next. Once we have secured our future, we will be planning a year or two ahead and extending our programming.

How do you balance digital vs. traditional when it comes to exhibition design?
This is one of the most interesting aspects of TMRW. Each exhibition has its own set of challenges and opportunities and we learn new things with each one that then assists with the next.  We’re often finding ways to bring those two worlds together in the exhibition space. How can the digital lend itself as an extended arm to the traditional, or vice versa?

But there have been times where we felt the need to have an empty shell of a space, enticing the viewer’s curiosity to what could exist if there is “nothing” in the gallery. But that’s just it, it’s about immersion and experience.

We exist in the post-internet era, where relationship between space and time can be compressed through digitalization and thus replication. Do you think digital art affects the way people respond to the world around them?
Digital art is able to offer a different view or perspective of an artist’s practice and narrative and thereby opens the opportunity for more immersive and deep engagement with the work. It certainly affects the way art is produced, consumed and disseminated and we love how that changes the traditionally linear ways in which art is perceived and expressed. It’s also a great way to ignite imagination, make stories that could never have such an impact accessible, as well as create opportunities for new ways of thinking and expression. 

Internet is essential for the South African youngsters. It is a catalyst of contemporary youth culture, driver of new trends, creating a flux of diverse disciplines. What do you think is a downside of the whole Internet movement?
Losing touch with the physical and the personal. Replacing deep and meaningful connection with superficial and transient connections. Thinking that the digital will replace the analog as opposed to extend it.

TMRW is testament to how URL is IRL and that the two can’t really exist without the other but rather how the two merge and mold into each other. It’s a sort of mutualistic symbiosis, perhaps?

You’ve had a very productive year at TMRW. What’s in store for the next one?
We have a number of contemporary artists who would like to engage the digital and we will be pursuing those opportunities for solo shows and group shows.

There are a few ideas for thematic group shows, including one on mental health. We intend to do it in collaboration with several institutions and curate a selection of work from contemporary artists working within this subject matter, in addition to commissioning a number of works. This is particularly interesting due to the nature in which rapid digitalization has on the human psyche.

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Also published on Medium.

Daria Kravchuk
Daria Kravchuk
is a curator and art manager with an MA in Museology from Amsterdam University. Her international projects are focused on the intersection of contemporary art, architecture, urban planning and anthropology. You can connect with her via LinkedIn.